Adam - re: "...just barely melting the solder. I then add another 10°C after I reach that point. This way I keep the temp as low as possible."
Sometimes hotter is better. The challenge with keeping the iron temp low is that as soon as you touch the iron to the part, heat spreads into the PC board, cooling the iron. That can lead to a longer dwell time on the component and/or a cold solder joint - especially with parts that have more thermal mass.
A hotter iron will allow you to get on and off the lead much quicker. Even though there's more heat, the shorter dwell time means that less will end up inside the part.
The downside to a hotter iron is the potential for thermal shock. Some parts simply don't allow hand soldering for this reason. The localized thermal shock to the part would be greater than going through a reflow oven. And, you do have to be quick with the iron and solder.
Ah, yes, good writing instruments. Because I do a lot of sketching, both of designs and general doodles, I love to have good writing instruments. I have a few that I think that are really important. The first is this of Pilot Hi-tec C pens. For a stick pen, they are a bit pricy per pen, but they offer a gel pen that does not bleed (so far that I have seen) when you stop or slow down during writing or sketching. They come in sizes as small as .025mm. I am not sure how big they go as I only have the smallest size. I love these pens. They are my favorite by far. I have tried many others, but these take the cake. The smaller sizes may not be for some as you can easily damage the point if you mash them hard.
For pencils, this one is my favorite. It is the Platinum Pro-use II. It has a good heft to it, and despite its looks is actually very comfortable to hold. I get the .3mm led version. This one is my second favorite. It is the Pilot S20. I usually carry it with me when I need to be dressed up and have a good pencil.
Lastly, everyone needs a good Sharpe. When I did aircraft restoration, these things were almost like gold. You did not leave them lying around or they would get reclaimed by others. Finline Sharpies were good for marking out sheet metal, and the normal Sharpie was great for transferring holes.
We use hex-head screws to hold almost everything together (basically, no Philips, Torx or flat), and sometimes there isn't a lot of clearance, so a good set of ball-end hex wrenches is essential. I do the software & electrical, but it's cool having a machine shop in the back.
Another item to put on your list: a good quality lighted magnifier.
To get a bit off topic, of course you should have quality writing instruments for your lab, such as the innovative Uni Kuru Toga mechanical pencil -- the aluminum Roulette model is exceptional. And for pens....
BTW, Fry's sometimes blows out their test equipment when the new models come in; I bought my scope there for 50% off.
And eBay is pretty good, if you're patient. I've picked up a lot of my servo drives, motion controllers, variable frequency drives, and such from there.
re: "Modifying an airplane so that it replaced a piston engine with a turbine engine, and then clipping 12' off the 35' wingspan. Then rebuilding it after a bug clogged the fuel system and it made an off airport landing"
I'd like to hear more about this story. It may not be electronics, but it's got "engineer" all over it.
What to get first? It does depend on what you are doing: analog, digital, RF...
As a youngster, I started out with a cheap card table. Kept my tools in a shoe box. I started with miscellaneous screwdrivers, pliers, cutter...and a cheap Radio Shack soldering iron. When I finally got a temperature controlled iron, it was wonderful. When I finally got a Metcal, it was heavenly. Ebay is great :)
My first "instrument" was an analog VOM from Radio Shack (OK, I started in the early 70's...). I got a better one later.
I'm an analog/RF guy. I suggest DMM, then scope, then logic analyzer. But I think lots more people start with digital stuff first these days, so for that, DMM/logic analyzer/scope is better (unless your scope is REALLY good and decodes serial data streams! :)
NASA's Orion Flight Software Production Systems Manager Darrel G. Raines joins Planet Analog Editor Steve Taranovich and Embedded.com Editor Max Maxfield to talk about embedded flight software used in Orion Spacecraft, part of NASA's Mars mission. Live radio show and live chat. Get your questions ready.
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